You’re feeling pretty good about life. You’ve graded all your papers. You’ve created lesson plans for the next several weeks. Your favorite student baked you chocolate chip cookies. You finally have time to use all those classroom decorating ideas you’ve gathered on Pinterest.
Before you decorate your classroom, however, take a look at what research says about classroom decor. There are ways to get it right and ways you can get it wrong.
Classroom Environment and Student Learning
Establishing a positive classroom environment promotes learning, but how do you decorate your classroom to create an optimal learning environment? A common mistake teachers make when decorating their classroom is by practicing “more is better.”
The Journal of Experimental Child Psychology studied how classroom décor affects students’ ability to learn. In the study, researchers compared student cognition in classrooms with high visual décor to classrooms with low visual décor. The study concludes that student performance is reduced when classroom decorations provide too much visual stimulation.
Before you tear down everything on your walls and set your decorations ablaze, the study does not indicate classroom walls need to be bare. A 2015 study from the University of Salford in the UK concludes that students benefit when classroom walls have some decorations, but should leave between 20-50 percent of the walls blank in order to avoid over-stimulation and clutter. The key, according to the study, is to make the room look lively, but not chaotic.
Signs Your Room Décor Needs Improvement
Even the best classroom decorating ideas don’t always lead to the optimal classroom atmosphere. Check out your room and see if you’re guilty of any of the following.
- There’s no blank wall space. A study by the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology focuses primarily on the chaotic results of an overly decorated wall. Take a look at your walls. If you don’t see blank space, you may be inhibiting your students’ ability to focus. This sign that you need to change your classroom décor is easy to fix: Take stuff down. When you put stuff up, make sure there’s space in between.
- Most items are teacher created. The decorations in your classroom should reflect the work of everyone in the room, not just the teacher. At the start of the school year, make the room inviting. Make sure your bulletin boards have borders. Make sure your walls aren’t completely bare, but leave room for student work. An important finding in a University of Salford study indicates that students feel a greater responsibility for their work and are more likely to remember the material if it is displayed.
- Most displays are decorative and not instructional. Items that reinforce learning—think instructional posters, maps, charts—reinforce lessons and content. Non-functional items take up precious wall space without moving forward classroom learning objectives. Research indicates that replacing instructional materials from past units with instructional materials from current units enhances learning.
- Students don’t use the material on the walls. If students don’t reference the materials you spent hours creating and hanging, then you need to revise your materials or revise your layout. Often, foundational concepts—order of operations in Math, the writing process in English, the Bill of Rights in Government—are buried in non-essential visual noise. Don’t let that happen.
- You don’t use your wall materials to teach. You spend several minutes daily writing objectives on the board, creating informative powerpoints, and documenting learning. Taking a few minutes to replace non-usable wall coverings with items you can refer to regularly will save time in the long term and make your classroom more instructional friendly.
- Your classroom feels like a dungeon. Students often find school depressing. Inspect your room and determine whether it depresses or engages. If you have windows, do not cover them up. Let in natural light. Balance wall colors. They don’t all have to be dingy gray. Spruce up the classroom with a bright wall and the mood may improve.
The Foundation for Decorating your Classroom
The best classroom decorating ideas start with the objective of making the classroom engaging and not distracting. Your classroom décor should contribute to making the classroom lively, but not cluttered. The best classroom decoration is one that helps teachers instruct and students learn.